I was the Guardian’s Public Leaders Summit on Wednesday as well as at the NLGN’s Future Councillor event on Saturday and this post is reflection on both of those events. I’ve also been hearing back from some of the Police Officers I am working with on the Strategic Command Course and this has also influenced me – I’ll be interested to hear if other people feel the same themes emerging.

The Guardian event was excellent. Some amazing speakers and an introduction to the diagram of doom BEYOND Barnet’s graph of doom – who knew there were scissors of doom??? The content will be covered on the Guardian website so I’m not going to into it in detail here – instead I want to highlight themes and gaps.

There were two main themes for me:

  • The need to embed transparency at a cultural level. Most of the speakers mentioned it and the Chairman of John Lewis gave a really great description of the simple expediency of being more transparent with staff. I think transparency is one of the simplest (note simplest not easiest) cultural changes to bring about as we can do a lot by engineering change systemically rather than behaviourally and this could be a good place to get started – as long as you are ready and braced for the inevitable unexpected byproducts of this shift. We perhaps talk about this more than simply working through the system changes that would start the ball rolling. I know I can be accused of oversimplification here but I am thinking back to a recent conversation with Simon Cole which made me reflect on the pointlessness of over thinking the destination when you already know the first stage of the route you want to take. Perhaps one of the aspects of a more co-productive set of relationships is that we let go of the destination a little bit more.
  • Collaboration as the new norm. Everyone said this – and a brief discussion on twitter afterwards highlighted the fact that this is more than partnership working. Partnership can be argued to be a structural response where collaboration is a cultural one. Michael Coughlin expressed this as the difference between salad and soup (I liked this analogy but on reflection and as I have a visceral dislike of lettuce soup – so slimy – I will not be using it – sorry Michael!). It was good to hear this repeated so many times but personally I feel as if we have a really long way to go on this and perhaps the biggest shift we need to make is to accept that until we embed collaboration in the culture then we are going to be overly dependent on key individuals who currently make this happen. We will need to work on how we highlight and incentivise these behaviours before this will be a systemic shift. Part of this should be supporting people to collaborate internally as well as externally and also looking outside of the public sector.

Its impossible to talk about collaboration without also talking about power – and I think you can argue that more collaborative working shows a shift from established hierarchical power to more networked power.  One final reflection is that the room ‘felt’ like old power not new power to me.

And now we move onto to what I felt were the elephants in the room – things we didn’t talk about.

The first of these was any kind of real discussion about the political process and the fact that our adversarial political culture, and perhaps our politicians, are the one of the biggest barriers we have both to radical change and in particular to more radical collaboration. Now – I am at the radical end of change with respect to democratic reform but I think we have to deeply consider how we might reinvent politics to make it relevant for a networked and digital world with a far more participatory culture. This is a tall order for a one day event but I hope that this is a discussion which goes ‘mainstream’ this year as I don’t think its reasonable to have public sector workers fight to manage radical disruption with one hand tied behind their backs as the politics fails to change. The kinds of question we could get started with are:

  • Do we need to make political reform a priority? Or at least a high profile narrative to give people confidence to innovate?
  • Does our political process facilitate collaboration?
  • Are we ready for staff to be citizens?

This doesn’t apply to all politicians by any stretch – I work with many exceptional ones – but the system as a whole needs a rethink.

I also felt that we didn’t touch enough on the potential of digital to support and even accelerate behaviour change. This is perhaps partly a result of my own ‘lens’ on the world but its absence concerned me as it perhaps indicates something that I have seen about the place which is an absence of someone who can articulate digital strategy at the top table. We need to treat technology as a driver of long term change and not just leave it hidden in the ICT department. This discussion of technology needs to be from the perspective of how the public and industry are using it not from an internal prospective as we need to understand the world as it is in order to reform how we deliver services.

This leads me to another observation which is driven by a number if conversations I have had recently about the role of technology and the laziness with which we come back to using twitter as ‘the’ example of what is possible. As I have said before, Twitter is not the network. Its of immense relevance to the media and also beloved by many professionals for its immediate access to information but its not representative and it is just one tool with a business model that will only last as long as it has our attention. There will be many highly effective networked representatives and organisations who don’t choose to use it because people are creating all kinds of alternative networked and collaborative tools and applying these to civic issues. We need to look beyond twitter firstly to build strategies that take advantage of the full disruptive power of social technologies in a positive way but secondly because you can’t build a strategy on the back of a commercial platform over which you have no control and who might change the rules of engagement at any time.

And this leads me to my final point. If we all think that procurement is so central to driving real change and collaboration then we really do need to get together and fix it – delegating this down will not get this done. Anyone for #commissioningcamp ??


This is going to be one of those annoying posts which strays between research stuff and more practical things. I’m writing it to tease out an inconsistency in my thinking around both the thesis and also our design work for Citizenscape. It really is thinking in public so please feel free to look away and leave me quietly muttering to myself……

I am just neurotically tweaking (with heroic help from the amazing @GeorgeJulian and others) my thesis which does two main things:

  • Describes and describes a method for reliably finding informal civic activity online
  • Suggests some design criteria for creating Digital Civic Spaces which would enable this participation

I hasten to add that at 90000 words I sincerely hope it does a few other things as well but we shall see…anyway

I define informal civic activity online as being content which is created with an intended primary audience of the wider community as opposed to informal social activity which has an intended primary audience of friends and/or family. I use the term ‘primary audience’ as the publicness of the online world means that this content will also have unintended secondary or further audiences as well. Community might refer to community of place or of interest but my work focuses on community of place. In more practical terms I am talking about community websites, hyperlocal sites, Facebook groups or active individuals who are using the Internet either to talk about or organise in their local area. One of the points I make is that we can’t just frame this content as being citizen journalism – while some content creators fit this description there are more who are using these tools without any intent that they are creating an authoritative record or commentary on events and are better described simply as community activists or active citizens.

This ambiguity about audience for informal civic activity creates a dilemma for policy makers and politicians. While this content is in the public domain it is not necessarily intended as part of any political or democratic process. We can argue that because we should all be aware of the publicness of the social and the possible existence of secondary audiences that this information is in the public domain but without the active intent to participate its role in public debate is – well – debatable.  This debate is around the nature of Social Media with respect to the concept of the public sphere and its role in political communication – will pick this up separately.

Its fairly standard practice for communications teams to monitor sentiment and significant influencers online and this is part of the advertising tax we all pay in different ways to keep social media free in the main part. I am amazed that more politicians don’t do the same thing. However this kind of monitoring, while useful, does not seem to me to be a solid foundation for a different and more co-productive relationship with the Public – something I would argue strongly that we need. (There are some interesting parallels with academic research ethics around social media here which I might pick up at a later date).
The existence of informal civic activity online speaks of the potential for a more meaningful role for this in the democratic process as it opens up a connection to community groups and networks which are often outside of the ‘usual suspects’ of community engagement and political campaigning. However on the other end of things we don’t as yet include social media content which has not been created in response to a specific question in consolation or engagement processes and this means we are closing down the potential for agenda setting and proactive engagement in the policy making process other than by traditional routes.

So, we have meaningful activity online and no clear route for how we actively rather than passively include it in the democratic process.

This is where the design criteria for digital civic space come in (sorry folks – this is repeat from other postings):

  • Design Criteria 1: The purpose of a digital civic space to is to provide an environment in which any citizen who chooses to can observe, audit and participate in democratic debate and decision making – it is a Public and open space that is available to any interested Citizen.
  • Design Criteria 2: The space should facilitate a co-productive relationship between Citizen and Government. This should extend to the content curation and management of the space
  • Design Criteria 3: The geographical reach of the space should be self-defined by users with administrative boundaries being subordinate to ‘natural place’ described by the Civic Creators.
  • Design Criteria 4: The space should support the principles of open government with respect to data, process and transparency
  • Design Criteria 5: The space should be able to authenticate the identity of participants to a standard which makes their contribution available to consultation and policy making processes.

The thesis will (I hope!) tell the story of where these all came from but we (at Public-i) have been working on creating Citizenscape on this basis (this is where the action comes into the action research!!). We are about to be ready to beta the next version of the platform and this post was triggered by a need to really think about the point of connection between the informal civic spaces created by citizens (as described above) and the more formal but still open space which is described by the criteria above. We will be testing this thinking as well as the UX in the beta tests so I will report back at some point.

We can (and do with Citizenscape) take a step forward from the surveillance scenario described above by making sure that anyone whose content is being used is informed and by ensuring that the platform ensures that platform shares the same metrics and measurement with both the audience and the administrators. However in terms of creating a democratic space the key is I think in active participation – which is linked to criteria 5 – identity. While a Digital Civic Space might draw on ambient or passive activity which has the wider world as a secondary audience some act of active participation is needed in order for this to be included in democratic debate. This might be a response to a specific questions (as is the case with online consultation) or it could be the sharing of identity with the Space in recognition that you want your content to be ‘counted’. I don’t see any issue at all with making it clear that democratic debate needs to understand how representative the participants are and also have a degree of accountability which is not possible without a sense of who is participating (note: this doesn’t mean your identity needs to be public – it just needs to be known).

So – I am proposing that the that missing connection between informal and formal digital civic activity must be a conscious act of participation. We cannot consider media monitoring to be a substitute for democratic participation – even though that is the more straightforward approach. In practical terms this means inviting people before including their content and being completely transparent about how its being used – I don’t think either of these points are either difficult or unreasonable.

Government can learn a lot from monitoring activity online – but it can gain a lot more by collaborating with the content creators.

One other thought – if therefore we are going to ask people to identify themselves to the Digital Civic Space in order to participate in the democratic process then we are going to have to ensure that there is some kind of democratic promise in place. If we want people to be actively participating then we need to be actively listening. The nature of that listening is another post – perhaps a discussion about Networked Councillors as well as a discussion about new forms of Policy Making.

This is the follow up post on the Master of Networks event I wrote about here. The objective of the event was to bring together policy makers and network scientists to examine how network thinking might play a role in the policy making process.  As I am supposed to be editing chapter 3 at the moment I am going to just bullet point some observations and then describe in more detail the session we ran on democratic conversations.

1.  Not all networks are created equal: Networks are being used in very different ways in different academic disciplines and if we are going to do this kind of multi-disciplinary working then we need to be mindful of this. Two areas of tension of this point are firstly in the description of the nature of the connections between nodes. Broadly,  those of us from a more sociological background were keen to understand the types of relationships being described, while the  Economists were more interested in the overall behaviour of the network. And this is the second point of tension; where those from a more quantitative background are looking at the overall properties of a network, putting forward quite rightly that one of the interesting things about networks is that they can survive the removal of a single node the social scientists ‘knew’ that some nodes are more significant than others to the networks nature. Neither answer is ‘right’ but a better appreciation of this might have made a few of the sessions less tense. We were each frustrated by a perceived lack of precision from the others with respect to definition of terms and concepts and a bit of time spent clearing this up would really have helped

2.  Why does this matter? It was clear that policy makers and academics use the term ‘evidence’ in different ways – we knew that already (excellent piece from Martin Reeves on this on the Guardian has week). In using a relatively new evidence base then we need to make sure that policy makers are clear on the methodological considerations and the differences described above. The cautious route – and the one adopted below – is to consider network analysis as a tool for discover and exploration rather than normative measurement.

3.  Multidisciplinary working needs some rules: We perhaps fell between the conference and unconference formats a little too much – I think next time I participate in something like this (and I hope I do – it was great!) then I think that some ground rules need to be established in advance to make sure that basic differences in approaches don’t take up too much time.


4.  Was I mansplained? It was unfortunate that the methodological divide I described above broadly fell along gender lines – but the experience really outlined for me the different ways in which men and women work in groups. I don’t want to call gender on this kind of thing as its often not relevant and also doesn’t accurately representative the personal views of any of the individuals participating. However we did seem to get sucked into breaking the group up along gender lines more acutely than I have experienced before and I still can’t work out how we failed to fix that when we all wanted to. I wondered about whether or not to blog this point but as this is essentially my action research diary I wanted to note it as it had a notable effect on the group dynamics and perhaps did lead to us having a fairly polarised qualitative vs quantitative methodological debate than I think we might have done otherwise

5.  Millie Begovic is doing some fascinating things at the UN – recommend you take a look when the presentation is available.

6.  Twitter is not the network – there is a HUGE temptation to do ‘big data’ analysis of behaviour on Twitter because we can. However this is very dangerous when considering democratic questions – and by implication policy making – as we can be fairly sure it is not an audience which is demographically balanced. Just because its easier doesn’t make it representative and if we want to be looking at networks online in this context then we need to develop better approaches.

7.  Big brother may or may not be watching you:  With respect to Social Media we need to be clear on the differences between monitoring and participation and make appropriate judgements about both the research ethics of using content in the public domain in this way and also its validity with respect to informing policy. This was an interesting discussion from both an academic and policy making point of view

Related to both these final points is something which I tweeted and got RT’d a fair amount:

@curiousc: Participatory democracy is not representative democracy but we need representativeness to be participatory to make sure these don’t diverge

And this is perhaps the elephant in the room – talked around and not about – Why are we not turning our representatives into more effective nodes? I have an increasingly urgent feeling that we need to start bringing politicians into these kinds of discussions and the previous model of developing policy and presenting it to policy makers is not fit for purpose in an increasingly agile fast moving context.

Democratic Networks
The session was based on the earlier blog post but also on this initial proposition:

  • We want more participation in our representative democracy
  • There are Policy Makers who are prepared to change their process to achieve this
  • We can find relevant – if informal – civic participation online
  • A network analysis of relevant communities via social media – digital networks – are an appropriate starting point for this

These points all withstood some debate with the most contested being the usefulness of looking at digital as a starting point. This is reflected in where we ended up as we decided to test this point. We then went on to debate these questions:

  • What are the practical difficulties with generating a network analysis across multiple social networks?
  • How can we connect this to offline networks?
  • What do policy makers need to know about ‘nodes’ in order to include them in the process?
  • What do we need about the network as a whole to include it in the process?

It was this discussion (and the one from the preceding day) which highlighted the methodological differences in approach to ‘nodes’ with the social scientists developing the idea of the ‘Doris’ as the person in a community network who everyone knows / is most central. We then talked about the different qualities of ‘Doris’ who might function either as a Gatekeeper or a Connector and might be active or passive within either of those two designations.

This highlighted another distinction in the group between the creation of a participatory process – where the objective was described as seeking to turn collective complaint into collective action – and those looking for an effective information gathering approach.

In both cases it was clearly important to understand the actions of these nodes and not just their connections and our final observation was that there was as yet no generalisable learning with respect to these individuals – we might actively look for a ‘Doris’ but each individual will be unique in their position within that specific network.

When asking policy makers what they felt they needed to know about both the networks as a whole and also specific nodes there were a number of points:

  • It was felt important that we could understand any bias or political values – and this discussion contributed to the point about participation/monitoring above
  • There was a need to establish authenticity – is this a ‘real’ person – however different people have different views on the degree to which this needed to be authenticated. Generally those of us more comfortable online where happy with the idea of identity being a social construct that we could judge though social signals – others wanted to hold identity to a higher standard of evidence
  • This led into a discussion of anonymity with no clear consensus as to whether it was or wasn’t appropriate in a policy making context. The introduction of the Slashdot example was extremely useful in this (thanks Matteo). I can’t find an article on this which isn’t beyond the paywall but the wikipedia article is useful  as is the FAQ page for the site.
  • There was an agreed for an understanding of the reach of messages and discussion as a counter to what was felt as the imperfect feedback offered by the traditional media

This led onto a debate about how we might increase democratic participation and what were almost two opposing views:

  • People will come where you give them feedback and where you are willing to listen
  • We need to go to the places where the discussion is already happening and participate there

This was interesting with respect to different cultural contexts as in the UK the debate has clearly moved to position two and it was useful to realise that this is not universally agreed with (there is a real language tyranny at these things with native speakers having an unfair advantage in debate – apologies to those participants who were frustrated by this).

However there was consensus with respect to an unmet demand from the Public for increased opportunities for participation and a needed for government to increase supply in a way which actually meeting the actual demand rather than a simple increase in volume and efficiency of traditional participation methods.

We then moved on to debate whether there a relevant experiment which we could design to test some of these ideas:

  • How do we create a baseline in order to understand what we mean by ‘increase’?
  • Testing ‘better ‘information’
  • Testing better ‘participation’

We came up with two ideas which we would like to move forward:

Information experiment
We need to do some basic analysis and comparison of some ‘policy relevant’ networks in order to understand what is easily knowable and useful to policy makers. While the underlying tenants discussed here were agree to be useful the policy makers felt that they needed a more concrete sense of what could be demonstrated with respect to information rather than participation.

Participation experiment
Rather than a community engagement experiment (some examples of this here) we decided to look at how network analysis might effect a more formal deliberative tool. We selected Citizen Juries as being something where the selection of participants was important but also where the extent that the experience of the participants was communicated within the community was also of interest (You can read some background on Citizen Juries in this UK Parliament briefing paper). We want to look at three cases:

  • Jury selected on the usual basis of random selection from a pool of volunteers
  • Jury selected based on high levels of centrality based on network analysis
  • Jury selected based on low levels of centrality based on network analysis

In each case the network analysis would look at online and offline networks in a geographical area and we would then track the ‘reach’ of the experience of participants through the network after the event. Our objective is to look at:

  • How do the results of the Jury differ based on selection methods
  • How does the impact of the Jury in the wider population differ based on selection methods.

Volunteers now come forward!!!  Form an orderly queue!

I had a really fascinating and thought provoking couple of days so many thanks to all concerned and particularly to Alberto Cottica who did an outstanding job of bringing a diverse bunch of interesting people together to discuss something that I think will have major significance to government as we acknowledge the social shift towards a more networked society.

I think that these kinds of events are really important.  If one of the effects of a more networked world is the blurring of boundaries between roles and disciplines then we all need to become better at this kind of multi-disciplinary working.  To do this we don’t just need the social media skills (thought their lack in government was repeatedly mentioned) we need to have collaboration skills that make us quick to understand the difference between semantic and fundamental disagreements and the ability to quickly understand the value of a contribution from a field you don’t know anything about in the same way as we can smell out a troll on twitter.  I’ve written about the need for networked leadership before but perhaps we also need to be considering the skills we need for networked collaboration.

Thanks everyone for a fascinating couple of days – comments, disagreements and corrections are all welcome below!

….if I hadn’t got stuck in Sussex owing to #uksnow

Firstly – apologies to anyone who was actually looking forward to me speaking – I always feel a bit of a whuss cancelling because of bad weather but it really was rather slippery out there…anyway here are the slides that I was going to use but you may find them a bit cryptic without the accompanying commentary so here are some thoughts:

I wanted to make a few different points the first being that if we value our democracy then we need to be putting the same amount of energy into redesigning it to be fit for purpose in a world which is digital, networked, open and agile as we do with every other part of Government. The second point is that while we all hope that politicians will take responsibility for making change happen (this is perhaps a different discussion) we know that the continuity and commitment to following any change through and really making it happen will fall to Officers and in this case it should fall to Democratic and Member Services.

At Councillor Camp last week one Member said that their challenge as elected representatives is evolve or die (I think in the way of the dinosaurs rather than literally) and Officers who are supporting the democratic process should in my view be taking the same position. With a growing democratic deficit we have to look at ways to reconnect Citizens to our democratic decision making – and we need to do it on a shoestring.

Digital technologies can help us do this but only if we actually change what we are doing and redesign the service to fit this new environment and a public who want a more direct and collaborative relationship with politicians and the process of decision making – not by simply adding digital as another job to do.

We have been working with Democratic and Members Services officers for a long time now (11 years!!) and when we started out it was a revolutionary thing to webcast a council meeting – so many of our clients were and are pioneers. However its probably no longer enough and we need to be offering the public the chance to interact with the content as well as simply viewing it.

This is a small example but there is a bigger strategic picture as well. I recently wrote some guidance on Digital Democracy for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners which really opened my mind with respect to the possibilities that are there if we remove the restrictions of our current systems which is in many cases rooted in the past. In the report you’ll see I have set out a different models of communicative, collaborative and co-productive politicians with examples but in all cases these involve making more extensive use of digital technology than is the norm in most Local Authorities.

So – with those comments in mind here is the presentation:

I expect that I would have been challenged on a great deal of this so please feel free to do so here!

Stay warm

This post is an outline of one of the policy question that we are discussing that the Master of Networks event (in Venice!!) next week. While not a proper paper as its an academic audience you may find this slightly more referenced than usual…its really lazy referencing with just signposts to literature rather than a proper review.

Master of Networks is “…. is a workshop that brings together cutting-edge policy makers and network scientists. We aim to come up with a specification in terms of networks of some public policy problems, and a viable strategy to address them in new ways.” The Policy question I’ve raised and will be putting to the group along with Ade Adewunmi  and Demsoc is:

WT3: Tracking a democratic conversation across different online media. How would you go about mapping democratic participation in a diverse media landscape?

What’s the problem?

My interest in this question is tracked here on the blog and is closely related to by PhD work (we’ll be using a subset of my research data) and is fueled by the question: “How can we connect the informal civic participation that we see online to the formal decision making process?”.

The contrast in behaviours in the Formal and Informal arenas is stark; Beyond the consistent growth in digital take up we see great growth in the use of digital technologies for civic purposes (Bruns, Wilson, & Saunders, 2008; Radcliffe, 2012; Wellman, 2001) in the context of a more Participatory Culture (Jenkins, 2008; Rheingold & Weeks, 2012). At the same time we are also seeing a concerning drop in participation in democratic participation (Brodie, Cowling, Nissen, Paine, & Warburton, 2009). In the UK this was illustrated with disastrously low levels of voter turnout in the recent policy and crime commissioner elections.

What’s the solution?

One possible route for addressing this dilemma is for the political decision making process to take on more of the cultural qualities and design affordances of the Social Web. I have suggested elsewhere that these should be; Openness, Agility, Co-production and Networked. If we are moving towards a “networked society” (Boyd, 2010; Castells, 2001, 2007; Hampton & Wellman, 2001) then what should our decision making processes look like?

With respect to the Policy Making process I am arguing that one vital way to bring the affordances of the Social Web into the design process is to provide greater levels of openness to the public both contributing to the policy agenda setting process but also making more timely contributions throughout the process (these contributions on the Open Policy Making blog make these points very well; the doctor is out , go where your audience is ) If we accept a description of Social Media as being a ‘Networked Public’ (Boyd, 2010) then understanding the networks that make up the informal civic conversation around either a topic or a geography is vital to ensure this more open contribution.  I also suggest we will also need to understand what are the limitations (if any) of commercial platforms which are currently available to us – do we need to consciously create digital civic space ((Blumler & Coleman, 2001; Cornwall, 2004; Howe, 2009; Parkinson, 2012)?

And the Policy Making question?

However – in order to make this manageable for a two day workshop I am posing only one other question: Simply tracking the conversation is important and informative but it is probably not enough – What is the standard of evidence that we need to meet in order to include content from the social web as part of the policy making process? And what standard is possible from the tools available?

And the data

The data set I have put forward to work on contains over 1000 informal civic websites (from 5 difference location). These represent a good (though not definitive) sample of the kind of informal conversations and networks that we might want to include in an open policy making process. The task is how might we turn these sites into networked data and how we might then understand who is participating. This is clearly a question that I have been working on for a while (civic spaces) but it is also something we have been working on in R&D commercially (Citizenscape Public beta). What we have not done is to consider what the Policy making needs are from these networked publics – we have focused more on finding and presenting them in a shared civic space.

What next

Is anyone has any questions about this then please shout – if not then I will post again with some outcomes from the event.

Bibliograph for those who like that kind of thing

Blumler, J., & Coleman, S. (2001). Realising Democracy Online : A Civic Commons in Cyberspace.

Boyd, D. (2010). Social Network Sites as Networked Publics : Affordances , Dynamics , and Implications. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), Networked Self: Identity, Community and Culture on Social Network Sites (pp. 1–18).

Brodie, E., Cowling, E., Nissen, N., Paine, A. E., & Warburton, D. (2009). Understanding participation : A literature review, (December).

Bruns, A., Wilson, J., & Saunders, B. (2008). Building Spaces for Hyperlocal Citizen Journalism. AoIR 2008 conference.

Castells, M. (2001). The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business, and Society (Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies) (p. 304). OUP Oxford. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Internet-Galaxy-Reflections-Clarendon-Management/dp/0199241538

Castells, M. (2007). Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society. International Journal of Communication, 1(238-266).

Cornwall, A. (2004). Introduction: New Democratic Spaces? The Politics and Dynamics of Institutionalised Participation. IDS Bulletin, 35(2), 1–10. doi:10.1111/j.1759-5436.2004.tb00115.x

Hampton, K., & Wellman, B. (2001). Behavioral Scientist Long Distance Community in the Network Society : Contact and Support Beyond Netville. American Behavioral Scientist, 45(476), 476–495. doi:10.1177/00027640121957303

Howe, C. (2009). Building the Virtual Town Hall: Civic Architecture for Cyberspace. 3rd Conference on Electronic Democracy EDEM.

Jenkins, H. (2008). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. NYU Press. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Convergence-Culture-Where-Collide-ebook/dp/B002GEKJ5E

Parkinson, J. (2012). Democracy and Public Space: The Physical Sites of Democratic Performance. Oxford University Press, USA. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Democracy-Public-Space-Performance-ebook/dp/B007JRS72A

Radcliffe, D. (2012). Here and Now.

Rheingold, H., & Weeks, A. (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (p. 272). MIT Press. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Net-Smart-How-Thrive-Online/dp/0262017458

Wellman, B. (2001). Physical Place and Cyberplace: The Rise of Personalized Networking. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 25(2), 227–252. doi:10.1111/1468-2427.00309

So – this is going to be a fairly quick one (for me) but here are some links and thoughts from a brilliant day yesterday at Councillor Camp.  Firstly – a massive well done to the FutureGov team and in particular Jon Foster for a really well run event with great speakers (hopefully the presentations will be found on the #cllrcamp hashtag) – and more than that fantastic participants.  8 hours in the company of a diverse group of politicians all of whom ‘get’ the need for Local Government and Local Politics to really start to use digital properly is an energising thing.  FutureGov create and curate this kind of thing brilliantly and I am very grateful that they do as I think its vital that we gather like minded people together to move the debate along.

I just wanted to capture my three points from the session at the end as my learning from the event and also to follow up on promises I made to provide links to various things.  The learning points / observations for me are:

  • Skills:  We do not have enough of the relevant skills to make the behavioural as well as channel shift to digital either within the member population or the officer population.  We either need to start widening our recruitment or thinking very hard about the kind of offer we are making to people – and perhaps both.
  • Training and Support:  We need to kick it up a gear.  Half hearted sessions on how to use Twitter are not enough – we need to completely overhaul member support
  • We cannot just create a fantastic collaborative and vibrant online conversation with the public in the way that many of the active Councillors were demonstrating and not think seriously about how we change the process of policy and decision making.  We need democratic service redesign.
  • We will not be able to really use social media as a democratic tool without breaking it out of the contextual confinement of being treated simply as another communication channel

Yes – there is a great start but there is a long way to go to turn our democratic use of social media from early adopter to mainstream status.

One final thought:  I had a really interesting debate with an extremely eloquent and experienced Councillor who felt strongly that it was wrong to set an expectation that all Members should be active online.  I thought about it on the way home and I think I have to (respectfully) disagree.  I believe we have to clearly set an expectation for members and officers that they will be fluent in not only the technology but the underlying culture of the online world because increasingly this reflects the offline world.  We will not get there immediately but I don’t think that should stop us setting the standard.  I’d be interested to hear whether or not people agree with me on this.

And now – here are various links to resources from the sessions I suggested (I have not put anything up from the webcasting one but most of the examples I mentioned can be tracked down on the Public-i Website)


First up was a session on the evidence behind the digital channel shift.  Most of this can be found referenced from this page I put together in 2011 – it needs updating (in particular with last years Hansard audit) but it has links to all the main stuff.  The Oxford Internet Institute report is talked about here and the digital inclusion data (including links to the Helsper stuff which is hugely helpful) is all here.

I wrote a paper for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners which brings some of this together and might also be of interest as it talks about designing a democratic office for the 21st Century as well as connecting Internet use with demographics (Digital Democracy).

Digital Civic Spaces

This whole blog is really all about these so feel free to poke around but the 5 criteria are below:

  • Design Criteria 1: The purpose of a digital civic space to is to provide an environment in which any citizen who chooses to can observe, audit and participate in democratic debate and decision making – it is a Public and open space that is available to any interested Citizen.
  • Design Criteria 2: The space should facilitate a co-productive relationship between Citizen and Government. This should extend to the content curation and management of the space
  • Design Criteria 3: The geographical reach of the space should be self-defined by users with administrative boundaries being subordinate to ‘natural place’ described by the Civic Creators.
  • Design Criteria 4: The space should support the principles of open government with respect to data, process and transparency
  • Design Criteria 5: The space should be able to authenticate the identity of participants to a standard which makes their contribution available to consultation and policy making processes.

I found the session really interesting and the two things which I took away to properly think about were:

  • The importance of having a clear view of the governance arrangements for the space and the role of the Members in the process
  • The need to re-engineer decision making processes to accommodate this more agile and fluid civic debate or public sphere (the point about creating opportunities for the public to set the agenda was part of this

I’m going to (hopefully!) do a session on this at #ukgc13 next week so will blog more on this then

Supporting Councillors

Great discussion about how to support councillors better and there was a general receptiveness to the idea that we need to have better quality information and analysis about social media available as well as a more sophitsicated discussion about digital footprints and identity.  A few resources were mentioned which are here:


Please shout if I promised you information and haven’t delivered!!




I usually spend the first week of the New Year hibernating and this year was no different.  I like to spend the time at home doing various forms of domestic organisation and getting projects started and ready for the year.  This year I have been spending most of the time of the edits of the final version of my thesis as I seem to be nearly ready to submit it (whoop!) which I can hardly believe.  In fact I won’t until it’s done so no more of that.

As part of my mental spring cleaning I have been thinking about some of the things I want to help make happen this year and this sort of leads into thoughts about UKGovCamp  and also Councillor Camp  – both of which I’m looking forward to being in the next few weeks.  It also feeds into the prep for the Master of Networks event   I’m off to with @Demsoc and some folks from GDS later in the month.

There are four main themes that are buzzing around in my head at the moment:

  • Collaborating as the new normal – not just when its easy:  I touched on this with the post I wrote before Christmas (Networks and Culture Change) but I want to spend some energy thinking about how both internal and external collaboration can work better.  Part of this is the old chestnut of breaking down silos – but I think we need to understand this in terms of dismantling and amending mental models and changing people’s relationships with their colleagues – not just blowing up the storm shelter.  We also need to think of this in terms of mutual respect.  If we are moving to an asset based model for community engagement then we need to do the same with colleagues and respect what people do know rather than criticising them from the POV of our own expertise – we need to be open.  Is also involves having the ability to be both single minded at the same time as being authentically open and inclusive.  Tricky.
  • Being clear that we do expect our politicians to be effective online:  I also want to spend time developing the work we are doing in the east of England researching what a networked councillor might look like and how we can better support them.  It ties in with the councillor camp event next week but also with the work we have been doing on PCCs (I’m off to catch up with some of the new PCCs in the next couple of months so I will report back!).  I think we have to be more demanding of our democratic relationships but that means supporting them more effectively.
  • Using networks to effect behaviour change:  I am fascinated by the work we are doing with Leicestershire Police and others to look at how we move social media from a communication to a more operational basis within the force and I can’t wait to get into some of the ideas that we came up with the workshop before Christmas and also to see how these might translate for other parts of government.  Once you have started to use network effects then looking at their ability to influence behaviour is the next step as long as we remember that that influence has to be two way – we have to be open to being influenced.
  • Digital as culture change: These all link to a bigger theme which is the framing of the digital channel shift as a cultural rather than simply a technological one.  We’ve just started a couple of projects which I think get right to the heart of this so more on that later this month.

Digital Civic Spaces

I’m really excited about the fact that we have been making huge progress with Citizenscape over the last few months and we have some exciting things planned to push this further.  I also want to circulate my research findings around Digital Civic Spaces a bit more (now they are finished!) and start to connect this to some of the conversations we see happening about Smart Cities – I want to make sure we are building a social element into this thinking.  And more generally research wise – once I actually push the submit button and start stressing about my viva – I want to look at two different areas.  One is to pick up on some of the thinking about digital identity and to poke how ‘fit for purpose’ some of the thinking/doing is when we consider democratic not just transactional needs.  Happily we are part of an EU research project on this so lots of opportunity to get into this.  Secondly I want to expand some of the network theory work I have started in the thesis and see if it can be operationalised more systematically   This connects both to the @Leicspolice work but also to the Master of Networks event where we are going to be looking at how you model content ingress from multiple civic sources.
So – interested in hearing if other people think these themes resonate with them as well – and also if anyone thinks these look like a #ukgov13 session – or not!

Happy New Year folks

PS  Re-reading this is seems like a set of New Year’s Resolutions – we’ll have to see how that goes!